The Dangers of Service Game Monetization: Battlefront 2

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Many videogames are no longer a one-off purchase where the game you receive in a cartridge or disc is a final product, untouched by the developer for the rest of time.  With the internet and the ability to patch games, and offer future downloadable content, videogames are more of a service than ever before.  Many publishers have tried different ways to monetize this service model, that resonates with players but also mitigates their risk.  How can we find a model all players and publishers are happy with?

Recently Dice and EA have taken a lot of heat over their monetization scheme for Star Wars Battlefront 2.  In the Beta, Battlefront 2 has a loot box system that offers Star Cards and cosmetic rewards, such as Victory Poses.  Star Cards are where the problem arises because this is Battlefront 2’s main way of player progression.  Now loot boxes are also purchasable for real cash, turning Battlefront 2 into a gambling pay-to-win game.  Why did Dice and EA go this route?

EA has mentioned that the current DLC model of games such as the 2015 Battlefront and Battlefield 1 fragment the user base between players who’ve purchased DLC and those who only own the base game.  EA attempted to fix this issue in Battlefield 1 by allowing friends to play the new DLC with each other, if one of them has purchased it.  This was a remedy for a friend to friend case, but still the user base as a whole is fragmented.  EA and Dice want to offer more content to players, while maintaining the revenue of their DLC model.  So, they offered a compelling reason to purchase Loot boxes: Real in-game upgrades.

It’s very easy to find the fault in this system, but EA also had a reason.  They wanted to bring all DLC content to all players, but they still need to make money.  Since I’ve been developing a Free-to-play mobile game, I know there is no easy solution to monetization, especially when entering the service model.  There’s a fine line between sink or swim.  Currently with the DLC model, there is too much emphasis on releasing content post release.  The initial launch needs to be big, especially for a $60 price tag.  The 2015 release of Battlefront suffered from this tremendously.  I played for an hour or two and realized there was not much else to see.  This seems to be fixed in the sequel.

Battlefront 2 needs to lose the stigma of pay-to -win.  A system that many developers have not implemented is using gameplay to enhance cosmetic rewards, creating a progression based system.  Let’s wipe Battlefront 2’s method from our minds and start over.  Star Cards could be only in-game obtainable power ups.  Players need to play the game and unlock these Star Cards.  These Star Cards can then be placed on character skins to power them up.  Players can still purchase loot boxes for real money, however they only earn cosmetic items.  In this example, the player can use the Star Cards they’ve earned in Battlefront 2 gameplay to upgrade their cosmetic pieces.

Solution in Summary:

  • Players can obtain Star Card upgrades only through gameplay
  • Players can use in-game currency to buy new character/class skins
  • Players can purchase loot boxes for real money to earn purely cosmetic upgrades, including new character/class skins
  • Players can use their star cards to upgrade their character/class skins

 

This allows players to progress their character with gameplay, rather than money.  Players can purchase Loot Boxes to look badass, but it’s still up to their play to upgrade it.  This removes the Pay-to-win model.  Players aren’t fulfilled by real money purchases in video games.  It breaks the designed progression for the player and eventually leads to buyer’s remorse.  With the solution I mentioned above, players will still feel a connection to the items they earn in-game.  Playing the game is still a necessity to moving forward.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the trend of videogames as a service moving forward.  Using tactics to squeeze money out of the player base makes sense in a Free-to-play mobile game, but implementing systems that coerce the player to pay more money after they’ve already paid the $60 price tag is pushing the envelope too far.  EA may argue that this system makes up for the loss of revenue from DLC purchases.  In my opinion, that is a totally different case because the player knows exactly what they get for their money, and there’s only so much content the player can buy.  With Battlefront 2’s current Loot box system, it is a gamble with no limit on possible spending.

I was extremely excited about Battlefront 2.  It appeared as if EA heard what went wrong with their 2015 Battlefront release and remedied it.  This beta has really tainted my view of the game, which I find tremendously sad for the developers who poured their lives into it.  In Gamespot’s The Lobby, the team spoke about their experience with the game, mentioning that in 8 hours of gameplay, they were not able to put a scope on a preferred gun (Click here for that video).  These sort of monetization schemes seem to be coming more to the forefront with the reveal of Activisions’ patent to use matchmaking to encourage players to use microtransactions as a main means of progression (Click here for that article)

My hope is that the focus once again can be pushed towards releasing fantastic games.  A line in the sand needs to be drawn on what is fair to a player.  I believe it will be up to the player base to determine that themselves moving forward.

If these monetization developments worry you or not, please leave a comment below. Will this increased revenue for Publishers result in better games, or will this focus on monetization ruin what makes videogames special?

Designing Power in First-Person Shooters

 

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The video game industry is oversaturated with First-person Shooters.  Each AAA Publisher looks to fill a void within the industry, hoping to capture the attention of mass market appeal.  While these publishers may look at market research to discern these openings, I want to look at the current game design of FPS games, and where they might lead in the future.  Oftentimes the question that arises for game designers with an FPS is “How do we make the player feel powerful?”

Many First-person shooters are all about individual skill and power.  Titanfall, Overwatch, and Destiny all try to answer this question.  Recently with Titanfall and Call of Duty, the answer was fast paced highly mobile combat.  It seems though that we are reaching the limits with how individual-player power affects gameplay (Arguably Battlefield 1 and the new CoD WWI weaken the players for a different experience).  Games need to be balanced, making sure everyone has a level playing field.  Power in that regard, is really a false promise.  Players feel powerful when they first play the game, but that feeling withers away once you’ve played for a long period of time.

The question remains the same.  “How do we make players feel more powerful?”  I turn to Overwatch.  For anyone unfamiliar, Overwatch is a team-based shooter where each character has their own role and abilities.  Overwatch takes a different stance because Blizzard did not focus on making the individual powerful, but the team.  Team composition is a massive part of Overwatch, selecting the correct characters for the match’s objective.  Alone, the individual player is weak.  This creates very fun and deep gameplay collaboration mechanics.  Players can learn the abilities of multiple characters and the synergies between them, sinking hours into the minute details and strategies.  What is the negative side of this style of game?

If collaboration doesn’t exist in the match, you will most definitely lose, which can be extremely frustrating.  Also, toxicity continues to plague Overwatch’s community, so much so that it has slowed development (Click here for article).  Players often throw games out of spite and immaturity, ruining the experience for many.  Unfortunately, I believe this may be an issue that plagues Overwatch forever.  Now I want to look at a recently released game that strikes an exciting balance between Team-based and individual gameplay.

Destiny 2 is an MMORPG First-person shooter that builds on the model of its predecessor with better storytelling, more nuanced class abilities, and the most satisfying guns to shoot (in my opinion).  Destiny uses a class-based RPG style progression, where each class has 3 subclasses, possibly more on the way.  These three classes each have their own abilities, either to tank, support, or deal damage, which shines in PvE gameplay.  Destiny 2 offers 6-player raids, where players need to collaborate and strategize to overcome tough bosses and waves of enemies (Click here for a Youtube example)  In the Crucible, Destiny 2’s PvP mode, gameplay still feels very individual based, where players usually pick abilities for the sole purpose of killing other players, not team-based synergies.

Destiny 2 offers options and caters to different players.  It strikes a balance between team-based collaboration and solo gunplay.  People can either play PvP for that solo experience, or take on PvE challenges if they want that team-based style gameplay.  Those styles of play are bolstered by a deep RPG progression system.  I look forward to seeing how the game evolves with its future patches and DLC.

Leave a comment below if you enjoy team-based or individual-based shooter.  Or if you’ve played something wildly different than discussed such as Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds.

Successful Implementation of Extrinsic Motivation in Splatoon 2

 

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With the unique proposition of the Switch, Nintendo finds themselves in new territory in between a console and a mobile device.  This has led to an integration of mobile game techniques into Splatoon 2 to motivate the player to return.

 

Games have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.  Free-to-play mobile games often use extrinsic motivation to encourage the player to return back to the game.  Developers do this to increase their chance at revenue.  They stall gameplay behind a waiting period, purposely slowing the experience so that the player wants to speed it up (possibly spending money to do so).  For example, in Clash of Clans, the developer uses building as a means for the player to return to the game.  If I start constructing a barracks now, it’ll finish in a certain amount of time, and I’ll return to the game to reap the benefits.  Mobile games are not the only ones that utilize this mechanic.  Blizzard has done this as well in regard to Garrisons and Order Halls in their MMORPG, World of Warcraft.  Players can spend resources to engage in missions for rewards.  After the mission duration, the player has a reward waiting for them when they return.

 

Extrinsic motivation can be dangerous because developers can lose sight of what really makes a game fun.  When extrinsic motivation is overused, players often find themselves returning to a game, but they are unsure why.  It isn’t fun.  It becomes more of an obligation, and the developer risks losing the player.  Nintendo, on the other hand, has a history of developing games primarily based on intrinsic motivation.  The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is a great example.  The player wants to explore the world to simply see what’s on the other side of a hill or up a waterfall.  The experience itself is rewarding.

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In a change of pace, Nintendo dapples with extrinsic motivation in Splatoon 2 by adding a mobile companion app where the player can order gear from Splatnet.  The gear takes a certain amount of time to arrive, thus motivating the player to return to the game later to collect their reward.  This is new territory for Nintendo, using mobile gaming extrinsic motivators to get players to come back.  Is Nintendo profiting from this?

 

Splatoon 2 is different from Clash of Clans and World of Warcraft because Nintendo isn’t directly profiting from the system.  Clash of Clans encourages players to spend real money to speed up the game.  Encouraging the player to return to the game equals more revenue.

 

Despite the different models in which the publisher receives revenue, i.e. subscription, micro-transaction, or retail purchase, they all want to prolong the games ability to make money.  With free-to-play games (F2P), publishers often use micro-transactions, allowing the player to purchase items with real money to enhance their experience.  For subscription based games, such as World of Warcraft, the longer the developer can keep you playing the game, the more subscription time you’ll purchase.  Nintendo’s model however is different.  Once you have purchased the game, they have their 60 dollars, however word of mouth is a powerful thing.  The viral reception of a game is essential to all revenue models.  This is referred to as the game’s K-factor, how many new players does your average player bring in?

 

Nintendo’s usage of extrinsic motivation popular in mobile games is more persuasive because it encourages me to play more Splatoon 2, not to pay more money.  The Splatnet feature and Splatoon 2 companion app show the potential synergies between mobile gaming and console gaming.  Seems like a good fit for the Nintendo Switch, a portable game console.

 

 

AGC: What is AR and Does it Matter for Games?

That’s a wrap on the Austin Game Conference.  I thought I would write one blog post including all sessions, however my topics just keep going.  So here is AGC post #1 focusing on the opening keynote.


 

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To open the conference, John Hanke, from Niantic, the developers of Pokemon GO and Ingress, took the stage with Chris Plante from Polygon, to discuss the current state and future of Augmented Reality.  The beginning of AR was a letdown.  Augmented Reality started back about four to five years ago with marker tracking, where a person would place an object/marker in view of a camera, and a digital construct would pop out of it.  Hanke asserted that this never took off because it felt gimmicky.  It lacked depth and did not connect with the general consumer.  What is different now with Pokemon Go and the advancements in AR?

The push from tech giants such as Apple and Google have moved the field forward, accelerating the growth of the technology.  Hanke believes the technology we see in phones such as Apple’s ARkit, will be featured in AR devices of the future, such as AR glasses.  As game designers, it is up to us to decide how we use this technology.

Hanke argues that Pokemon GO’s success stems from how they used the medium.  Using both the camera and the players geo location, it encourages players to go outside and interface with the real world, creating an experience that doesn’t otherwise exist.  Players leave their homes and travel to locations for special Pokemon, items, and raids.  Players share this experience with others, connecting through techniques commonly used in MMO games.  Niantic’s games even offer up massive events where millions come from all over the world to share one experience.  Hanke stated that the social aspect of Pokemon GO will remain its most prominent pillar in gameplay features moving forward.  Niantic intends to connect people by connecting the real world and the digital.  Okay, so Pokemon GO was a success, what about your AR game?

Table_Top_One.0.0.PNG.jpegWe are on the bleeding edge of technology, which means there will be experimentation.  Developers will try to set a standard for what an AR experience is, and I believe we have a good example with Pokemon GO.  Ask yourselves, how am I using my medium to best serve the game?  (A question you should ask yourself with any medium) The example of AR tabletop games arose during discussion.  Hanke disliked it, mentioning that it doesn’t use AR to the fullest.  He argued that the experience isn’t enhanced merely by existing in AR.  Designers should ask themselves: How is this game better because of AR?

What makes AR special then?  What should you do with it?  AR is a unique interconnection between the real world and the digital.  Currently at Blue Goji, we’re building a mobile game that blends the two experiences.  We not only want to create relationships and interactions in the real world, that otherwise wouldn’t exist, but also add to ones that do (Unfortunately I can’t say more about my current project).  A tabletop game already exists in other mediums.  How can AR build on and add to the experience, whether it’s an app, game, or any product?  Find ways to incorporate the real world and the people that live in it. Use AR to cultivate the human experience.

What am I Doing?

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It’s a question I have often asked myself through high school, college, and now the “real world”.  It remains a question I can’t shake.  A college degree serves some as a path onward into adult life, manifesting in a career.  No such path laid before me once I received my diploma in economics and music, only more questions.

I moved down to Austin to work at a startup tech company.  During my time here, I’ve started to find more answers.  All my life I’ve been drawn to video games.  Since I was six years old, I’ve played games on my Atomic Purple Game Boy Color.  I grew up with classics such as Super Mario 64, Pokémon Gold Version, and Uncharted.  No matter where I have been in life, videogames have remained an unwavering pillar in my life.

Video games are stories for us to uncover, a social experience to share with friends, and technical feats that capture the imagination.  How is it done?

At Blue Goji, I’ve had the privilege of tapping into this creative process, designing a variety of games with our team.  Sitting in a room with a whiteboard and a bunch of people scratching their heads has been my favorite place to be.  It’s those experiences that I want to have for the rest of my life.

So what am I doing here?  This blog is my experiment into all things video games.  I hope to improve my writing, through exercises in game design and narrative.  I will begin this experiment by reviewing video games, studying the mechanics that make them tick.  There’s no doubt in my mind that this blog will evolve overtime.

To anyone who finds themselves reading this, it would be immensely humbling to receive feedback on these pieces.  This is a learning experience, and there’s no better way to learn then with the help of others.  So here I go.

Adam